Good Nature Farm Brewery: Growing a Beer Business in Rural New York
The day before Carrie Blackmore and Matt Whalen wed in July 2012, a 7-barrel system arrived at their brewery on Milford Street in Hamilton, N.Y. Just six months prior, they had launched their beer business with a 2-barrel system. In the five years since, Good Nature Farm Brewery’s operations have moved from a former ambulance garage to their newly built space about a mile south of town. At the ribbon cutting in June, the chairman of the New York State Liquor Authority announced the 14,000-square-foot facility’s grand opening. All along, the couple’s dedication to local ingredients has been key to the success of their farm brewery.
Blackmore’s background as a farm educator and Whalen’s as an accomplished chef and homebrewer helped shape their entrepreneurial pursuits together. Blackmore, a native of Pelham, knew that she wanted to open a farm; Whalen, from Camillus, also wanted to open a business in the form of a restaurant or tearoom. When they relocated to the small town of Hamilton in 2010, they noticed that Madison County, once the country’s epicenter for hop farming, lacked a brewery. The nearest places were Saranac Brewery in Utica and Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown. With the help of the Small Business Development Center in Syracuse they wrote a business plan for a farm-to-glass nanobrewery. But they needed a name.
“Carrie and I were at one of the CSA farms weeding by hand an overgrown squash bed thinking of names for the brewery,” remembers Whalen. “We thought that it was very good to be in nature, even while we were sweaty and exhausted from all the work, when I thought, ‘Hey that is a great name for a brewery. Lets call it Good Nature Brewing!’”
License Number Two
By May 2011, they had stockpiled batches of five different styles of beer and, with the help of family, held a public tasting in Blackmore’s mother’s backyard. The enthusiastic response to their Facebook announcements and emails was a welcome surprise. “You’ve got these deans and administrators from Colgate [University who] come out to the middle of nowhere to try a bunch of homebrew made by a couple of kids,” Blackmore says. “That’s the reality.”
And so, with a microenterprise grant from the Madison County Industrial Development Agency and five beers, Good Nature opened its doors to the public in January 2012. The response was overwhelming—in a matter of weeks Carrie and Matt realized they would need to expand. But even after the upgrade to a larger system in July 2012, Good Nature could barely meet demand. Blackmore Googled grants for small businesses and found one offered by clothier Eileen Fisher. According to the organization’s website, it supported “women-owned companies that are beyond the startup phase and ready to expand their business and their potential for positive social and environmental impact.” She wasted no time applying.
For Good Nature, 2013 was the year of the Eileen Fisher grant, a move to a taproom in downtown Hamilton, and the farm brewery license. With the grant, which included a workshop in New York City, Good Nature purchased two new 15-barrel tanks. But in a way, the farm brewery license might have been the company’s biggest milestone. Before “farm brewery” became a part of the vernacular, the couple was already using locally sourced ingredients. In 2013, New York State passed the Farm Brewery bill, encouraging the growth of breweries statewide but specifying that license holders must produce beer made with at least 20 percent local hops and 20 percent other local ingredients. Fittingly, Blackmore and Whalen applied for the license on Good Nature’s one-year anniversary; two months later it became License No. 2. Since then, over 160 farm breweries have opened. “We started out using only 50 to 100 pounds of New York malted barley to using well over a 1,000 pounds every time we brew,” says Whalen. “A smaller scale, but the same goes for hops. I see more and more breweries starting to use a lot of New York grown product in their beers.”
Growing the Farm
The year 2014 was also the start of a three-year journey to opening a new facility—one that would include a larger brewhouse, a new farm-to-table restaurant, offices, and an outdoor beer garden. Blackmore and Whalen found a location on land shared with the Colgate Community Garden. Finally, they’d be able to combine production and retail in one place. Today, the outdoor beer garden sees guests like Doug Johnson, a Colgate University psychology professor. “To sit outside after the kinds of winters we’ve had in Central New York and have a nice crisp IPA or Blonde as the sun’s on your face and you’re talking to friends and colleagues—it doesn’t get any better than that,” he says.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, chef Alicyn Hart met Blackmore and Whalen in 2010 when they built a tap system for Circa, her farm-to-table restaurant in nearby Cazenovia. After that, she ended up serving Good Nature beer until Circa closed in 2014. During the restaurant’s eight years in operation, Hart fostered relationships with everyone from beef farmers to mushroom farmers and bakers, bringing the farm-to-table concept to a rural area where it was once ironically difficult to find any local food. Following a few years of freelance catering, she now heads the restaurant operations at Good Nature. What drew her to this position was the reciprocity between the brewery and its suppliers. “Good Nature doesn’t want to grow the hops, they want to buy farmers’ hops. They don’t want me to make bread, they want to buy local bread from Utica Bread,” she explains. “We make all the food on-site while supporting other artisans.”
In the brewhouse, head brewer Jonathan Rodriguez and assistant brewer Garrett Meakin work alongside cellar hand Mikey Jones. Whalen doesn’t brew as much as he used to and now oversees all brewery operations, helps in recipe development, and handles outside sales. “The original concept … was to make good beer using quality local and regional ingredients while giving back to a community that has supported us all along,” he says. “This is why we worked very hard to build our new facility here in Hamilton. We wanted something that any Hamiltonian could be proud of, and we feel we have accomplished that.”
20-hectoliter HEBS (High Efficiency Brew System) brewhouse (~17 barrels)
1 100-barrel fermentor
2 40-barrel fermentors
2 20-barrel foeders
1 40-barrel bright tank
1 100-barrel bright tank
1 bright tank
Good Natured Blonde: Easy drinking and slightly malty, this Blonde Ale offers hints of bread and crackers. 4.5% ABV
Annie: An extremely juicy Imperial IPA with citrus and tropical fruit notes. 8.5% ABV
American Brown Ale: Rich with prominent chocolate and toffee notes, Good Nature’s Brown Ale is dark and robust but smooth. 6.2% ABV
Fake Tan: Citrusy hops on the nose give way to slight malty sweetness and notes of orange zest in this American Pale Wheat Ale. 5.5% ABV
Bavarian Dream: Fluffy on the palate and light gold in color with characteristic Hefeweizen notes of banana and clove. 5.5% ABV
Non-Stop Hop Onslaught: Generous fruity character on the nose with a pronounced citrus flavor, this Session IPA pours slightly hazy. 4% ABV
Blight Buster: Grapefruit, melon, and passion fruit flavors stand out in this medium-bodied American IPA with a semi-dry finish. 6.2% ABV ■